In the build-up to the World Cup, it's all been about the players—for obvious reasons. Who will be the star man? Which high-profile player will fail to perform? Which youngster will emerge on the world stage?
However, there is another group of people who will have a huge effect on the outcome of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: the referees.
A bad decision one way or another can often prove the difference between moving on in the tournament or crashing out.
England fans will claim that Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda disallowing Frank Lampard's clear equalising goal against Germany in 2010 was the reason the Three Lions went out in South Africa.
Another English grievance—Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" in the 1986 quarter-final—was not spotted by Tunisian Ali Bin Nasser.
In 1978, Welsh referee Clive Thomas inexplicably decided to blow the final whistle as the ball was in the air from a Brazilian corner which was then headed in by Zico for the winner. The goal was disallowed and the 1-1 draw with Sweden stood.
On these types of decisions—along with countless other examples—are World Cups conceivably won and lost.
Thus, let's take a look at the men taking charge in Brazil and what is known of them ahead of the tournament.
World Cup Referees
|Referee||Nationality||International Matches||Red Cards||Penalties||Averages Per Game (Yellow/Red/Pens)|
|Daniel Bennett||South Africa||63||11||14||3.24/0.17/0.22|
|Noumandiez Doue||Ivory Coast||57||13||13||3.84/0.23/0.23|
|Svein Oddvar Moen||Norway||77||13||13||3.37/0.17/0.17|
|Carlos Velasco Carballo||Spain||53||5||18||3.72/0.09/0.34|
|Joel Aguilar||El Salvador||89||29||17||4.28/0.33/0.19|
|Peter O'Leary||New Zealand||42||8||8||3.67/0.19/0.19|
The most experienced referee at this year's tournament is Uzbekistan's Ravshan Irmatov who has taken charge of 114 international matches, three more than Englishman Howard Webb's 111 games.
At the other end of the spectrum, Nestor Pitana of Argentina and Brazilian Sandro Ricci are the least experienced with just 38 games apiece under their respective belts.
The most trigger-happy with red cards is Mexican Marco Rodriguez who has dismissed a staggering 51 players from 79 games in charge.
Meanwhile, with only five red cards given in 53 games, Spaniard Carlos Velasco Carballo clearly likes to keep players on the pitch. His red card record is the lowest of any referee in Brazil.
However, players would do well not to test his leniency: He once had an average of six yellow cards a game as an official in Spain.
On the penalty front, Peru's Victor Carrillo's 31 spot-kicks given from 75 matches is the highest average on show in Brazil.
While Gambia's Bakary Gassama—the first Gambian ever to appear at a World Cup, including players—has only awarded seven penalties in 54 matches.
Sweden's Jonas Eriksson may be able to identify with some of the stars on show in Brazil—he is a multi-millionaire thanks to a wise investment he made in a TV channel.
Elsewhere, there are plenty more earning their keep in other jobs. Italy's Nicola Rizzoli is an architect and Felix Brych has a doctorate in law.
On a less cerebral note, Yuichi Nishimura caused such outrage in a game he took charge of in 2010 in Congo that fans took their revenge on the streets by smashing windows of Chinese-owned shops. He's Japanese.
Turk Cuneyt Cakir was attacked by a goalkeeper in 2007, Portugal's Pedro Proenca was head-butted by an unidentified man in a shopping centre near Benfica's stadium in 2011, and Chile's Enrique Osses was hit in the face by a goalie in 2005 after sending the player off.
However, these referees do not cower away from irrational fans or players, probably the reason they are the best officials in the world.
Referees get a pretty raw deal the majority of the time, with their good performances ignored and their smallest errors seized upon by enraged fans and pundits.
However, those on show in Brazil are the cream of the crop, and while incorrect decisions are likely to be made, hopefully the football will take centre stage in the end.
All refereeing stats courtesy of Sports Interaction